| Rain-swept Siliguri. Picture by Avijit Sarkar
Sept. 25: Heavy rains, driven by gusty wind, lashed much of north Bengal and neighbouring Sikkim through the night and day, bringing life to a standstill. The downpour also swelled the rivers, raising fears of flash floods in the region.
The rain left many office workers and schoolchildren stranded. Much of north Bengal went without power because of rains. People were greatly inconvenienced as many telephones went dead.
The buffeting rains washed away the earth under railway tracks in Banidanga in the Malda division of Eastern Railway, disrupting train services. Malda logged the highest rainfall in the region at 176.4 mm till this evening.
Monsoon clouds dumped a total of 932.84 mm of rain on the Damodar and Ajay basins, swamping south Bengal as well.
As the swelling rivers put all six districts in north Bengal on high alert, Siliguri, the region’s commercial hub, wore a deserted look, with people and traffic staying off the roads.
For the town’s business community, it was a double whammy. The shopkeepers, already hit by a dearth of puja shoppers, cursed their fate as the rains kept the residents indoors. Siliguri and its adjacent areas recorded a rainfall of 70.2 mm till this evening.
“The market is already down this year because of the government’s decision to curtail the puja bonus. The rains have further dampened our business,” Biswajit Das, general secretary of the Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry in North Bengal said.
For the businessmen, the situation was compounded by the closure of several tea gardens. “North Bengal is doing only 30 per cent of its usual business of Rs 30 lakh a day this time,” Das said. The rains kept all the shopping centres in Siliguri, like the Marda’s Complex and Vivekananda Market, empty. Bajla Emporium, a popular sari store visited by at least 300 customers a day in the puja season, had less than 30 shoppers today. “We did one-tenth of our regular business today,” said owner Ramesh Bajla.
“It is an awkward situation for us. We are not selling much, but at the same time, we cannot shut our shops and go home,’’ said Arti Agarwal of Abhinandan, a busy sari shop. Till three in the afternoon, not a single customer had come in, she added.
Aloka Stores, which mainly caters to the lower middle income group, had very few customers as well. “Today's rain has badly hit our sales. We have not had more than 10 customers since morning,” said owner Rathindranarayan Saha.
Two municipalities and 15 blocks in Malda district were badly hit by the rains. Villagers living in mud houses bore the burnt, with many of the houses caving in. Some 50,000 people were believed to have been affected in the house collapse and water-logging throughout the district.
A total of 25 wards under the Englishbazar municipality went under water. Municipality chairman Krishnendu Choudhury blamed the water-logging on the “the poor drainage system”. He said the worst-hit areas included Mahanandapalli, Vivekanandapally and Ramkrishnapally.
Eight wards in the old Malda municipal area were flooded and some 200 thatched huts destroyed. Two people were reported to be have sustained injuries when a tree fell on them at Mongolbari village.
Malda divisional engineer of the electricity board Swapan Kumar Basu said a gale knocked out electric poles in many places, causing power cuts across the district. He said some 15 blocks had no electricity because of the rains.
Subdivisional officer (sadar) Samir Bhattacharya said the administration was monitoring the situation.
In north Dinajpur, a total of 300 villages have been inundated because of the incessant rains. Some 500 mud houses were damaged. In Raiganj, the district headquarters, a total of 26 wards including Ukilpara, Birnagar, Asokpally and Milanpara were waterlogged. Bus services were halted after the NBSTC depot went under knee-deep water.
Raiganj town reeled under a prolonged power cut, with many poles uprooted in the gale. North Dinajpur district magistrate Arif Aftab said all the BDOs had been instructed to visit the affected areas. “We are keeping a close watch on the situation and have enough relief material in stock.”
Weathermen said the heavy rains were the result of a low pressure area formed over Jharkhand, Bihar and gangetic West Bengal.
They predicted “heavy to very heavy rainfall” at all places over sub-Himalayan West Bengal in the next 48 hours. The low-lying areas of Jalpaiguri town remained waterlogged with 18.08 mm of rainfall since last night. Cooch Behar also received a rainfall of about 65.5 mm rainfall.